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Now that the 2007 season has come to a close, it’s time to parse the 2007 rookie class and separate the wheat from the chaff, the best from the rest, the cookies…from the crumbs.

American League

Cookie: Dustin Pedroia

My picking “Pedro” (as the guys on the team have christened him) should come as no surprise to regular readers of UmpBump. Quite simply, no other rookie has grown up as fast or as completely as the little man with the big swing. After a brutal first month in the majors, Dustin was hitting .182 at the end of April, and the ravening hordes of Red Sox Nation were calling for blood. Worse, veteran players on other teams were audibly laughing at him and his body-wringing swing during his at-bats.

They’re not laughing now. Pedroia finished the season with the best batting average of AL rookies (.317), the best OPS (.822), and the most runs scored (88). Though he only has seven stolen bases, he has the best stolen base percentage (0.88). And he’s one of the hardest batters to strike out in the league (just 42 K’s in 581 plate appearances, for a beautiful walk-to-strikeout rate of 1.12) . Such a rate of contact without a lot of power (just 8 homers on the season) must mean he grounds into a lot of double plays, right? Actually, no—Pedroia has done that just 8 times this season.

Defensively, Pedroia has been solid but not spectacular. This is an area where I believe his diminutive stature has hurt him—many a time I’ve seen him dive after a gapper, his 5’7″ frame fully extended, only to watch the ball sail just an inch past his wee arm. Nevertheless, he plays an acrobatic second base, epitomized by the amazing grab he made to save fellow rookie Clay Buchholz’s no-hitter.

In addition to his maturity on the field, Pedroia has also shown maturity off the field: after a brief hubbub early in the season when Alex Rodriguez through a multimilliondollar elbow at him to try and break up a double play, Pedroia’s mild comment (calling it “cheap” but also “no big deal”) got all kinds of airtime. And young Dustin promptly learned a valuable lesson: zip it.

For being the rookie to play the most like a big-leaguer, Dustin Pedroia deserves to be the American League Rookie of the Year.

Crumbs: Delmon Young, Reggie Willits, Josh Fields, Brian Bannister, Jeremy Guthrie.

Not that I think these guys are crummy players—just that it’s the crumbs they’ll get stuck with when Pedroia gets the cookie. Delmon Young has gotten a lot of attention as a potential ROY for knocking in 93 RBI, no mean feat (it doesn’t hurt that his average, which was .288 overall, jumps to .347 with runners in scoring position). However, the Tampa Bay left fielder has a hideous VORP (just 5.7, compared with Pedroia’s 36.0). And while Young gets props for playing in all 162 games this year, he instantly loses those props for failing to run out a grounder and being benched by his manager with just one game left to play. I know it’s hard to run out every ball when it’s the end of September and you play for the Devil Rays, but this is just the kind of immature incident that has gotten Young in trouble in the past. It’s not big-league. It’s bush-league.

Willits, left-fielder for the Angels, gets an honorable mention for having the best eye of the rookie class. Though it’s hard to strike out Pedroia, it’s hard not to walk Willits: a .391 OBP, 69 walks, and 4.44 pitches per plate appearance. Once he gets on, pitchers had better keep their eye on him, too—he had 27 steals this year. But he has absolutely no power—just 20 doubles and no homers.

Josh Fields should be an interesting guy to watch develop. The White Sox third baseman only played 100 games this year, which hurts his ROY status in my mind, but he’s an interesting combination of above-average defensive ability and power hitting. His average was just .244, yet he hit 23 homers and has a .480 slugging percentage. If he can learn some plate discipline (he had 125 strikeouts in those 100 games—yikes) he could be a real threat for Chicago.

As for the pitchers, Guthrie and Bannister, it’s hard to say what these kids would have done if they’d been on better teams (as opposed to the Orioles and the Royals, respectively). Bannister may not strike out a lot of people, but he doesn’t walk a lot of folks either. He was consistently good all year long, but especially effective June through August. Guthrie was a bit more uneven, but finished the year with comparable numbers. I don’t think either of them is the rookie of the year, but I’d sure like to have them on my team.

National League

Cookie: Troy Tulowitzki

The Rockies shortstop has really turned it on in the past week to help his team get to the playoffs, with a grand slam here, a triple there, a couple of doubles over there. But that’s nothing new for the newbie—he’s been playing well all season long. His .287 average, 24 homers, and 98 RBI make him a great offensive shortstop. Lucky for the Rockies, then, that they sacrifice absolutely nothing on defense: Tulowitzki has been the best defensive shortstop in the league this year.

Crumbs: Ryan Braun, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Hunter Pence, James Loney.

Ryan Braun, third baseman for the Brewers, has a drool-worthy amount of offense: .324 average, .634 slugging percentage, 1.004 OPS, and 34 homers. Those homers look even more amazing when you realize he played in just 113 games. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, I feel bad about giving awards to guys who don’t play on an everyday basis, or close to it. I also feel bad handing out cookies to guys who are the worst at their positions, defensively. And Braun has been, hands down, the worst third baseman in the league this year. Sorry, Ryan. Even your husky VORP (57.2) isn’t enough to save you.

What about Hunter Pence, you ask? The Astros centerfielder put up some very good numbers—.322 average, 69 RBI, 17 homers, and nine triples in 108 games. He uses his speed well in the outfield, where he’s above average defensively, but I feel obliged to note that he has a harmful .69 stolen base percentage. Nevertheless, If he’d played in more games, he could have given Tulowitzki some real competition.

I also considered Kevin Kouzmanoff, the third baseman for the Padres. Alas, poor Kevin! He loses another heartbreaker to his Colorado foe. His offensive numbers are juuust a touch softer than Troy’s across the board. Plus, he’s right down there with Braun as a craptastic corner glove. Nevertheless, he was the only rookie besides Tulowitzki and Diamondbacks CF Chris “.237″ Young to play in more than 140 games, and that, plus his decent numbers, is enough to earn our consideration.

Finally, I feel obliged to give an honorary crumb to James Loney, the young Dodgers first baseman. Like Pence, if he’d played in more games (as opposed to just 96) he could have given Tulowitzki a run for his money. In three important categories, he achieved some impressive numbers: his .331 average, .381 OBP, and 114 runs scored. As two nice peripherals, his walk-to-strikeout rate was the best in the class at 0.58, as was his average with runners in scoring position—a whopping .419. And not that first base is a defensively demanding position, but it’s worth noting that he can hold his own there.

Loney, Pence, and Braun (move him to first base, somebody!) might not be your NL ROYs, but any of them could very well end up being your NL MVPs a few years hence.

19 Responses to “Cookies for Rookies”

  1. Coley Ward says:

    Sarah, I can’t support choosing anyone but Braun in the NL, but I respect you making defense a priority.

    But what about Matsuzaka in the AL? Not even a mention?

  2. Sarah Green says:

    Coley, I didn’t mention any of the Japanese “rookies.” I don’t think they’re actually rookies. Given what Matsuzaka accomplished in Japan, I think it’s insulting to view him as comparable to a total newb.

    That said, I think he had a very promising year in the majors. He had more innings, more starts, more decisions, and more strikeouts than Bannister and Guthrie. Yes, he had 12 losses, but some of those were very close games in which the Red Sox offense helped him very little. Fifteen wins is a great start, and I can’t wait to see what he does next year!

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Oh, and it’s not just Braun’s defense (or lack thereof) that lost him the hardware, in my book. He wasn’t truly an everyday player all season long. Poop on that.

    However, I do look forward to watching him in the home run derby in the future.

    Plus, I have to admit, he’s kinda cute.

  4. Sarah Green says:

    Oh AND I forgot to mention this in my post, but the reason that Delmon Young doesn’t come up under Baseball Prospectus’s rookie category (for anyone out there looking) is because they’ve used plate appearances instead of at-bats as the cutoff. The technical rule is that to be considered a rookie, a position player cannot have had more than 130 at-bats or more than 30 days on the roster of a major league club in previous years (not including days on the expanded fall roster, for you Jacoby Ellsbury fans out there).

    Having heard all the hype about Delmon as a possible ROY winner, I emailed BP in confusion when I couldn’t find him on their ranking of rookie VORPs. They emailed back (I got a real person! amazing) and explained that though Young had 126 “at-bats” last year, he had 131 plate appearances. Thus, to the folks over at BP, Young wasn’t technically a rookie. Though, of course, by the official standards of MLB, he is. But a couple more singles last year, and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Tricky!

  5. You single out Braun’s bad defense as the reason that he loses the award but you fail to mention Tulowitski’s built in advantage of playing half of his games in Coors.

    Tulo’s home/road splits:

    Home: .326/.392/.568

    Road: .256/.327/.393

    an OPS difference of .960 to .719.

    Braun all the way.

  6. Sarah Green says:

    gej, if Braun had been a merely mediocre fielder *and* had played in more games, sure I could have given him my ROY vote. But he is the absolute WORST third baseman in the entire national league! (Someone, please move that man to first base!) Meanwhile, Tulowitzki is the BEST shortstop in the league. You’re talking two defensively important positions, absolute worst versus absolute best. That, coupled with Braun’s relatively low 113 games, was just too much for me to ignore. When I look for a Rookie of the Year, I look for a mature, well-rounded, developed player. That means having a solid, all-round skill set and playing almost every day.

    Plus, though I didn’t read Nick’s post before I wrote mine, he talks about Tulowitzki’s splits so I felt I didn’t have to. :) I mean, yeah, that’s a factor, but I’ve never been one to fault a guy for playing in a park that suits him (or even a park with really thin air).

  7. Coley Ward says:

    Sarah, we’d all love to see Prince Fielder play short stop, but it’s not going to happen. He’s your Brewers 1B for the near future. There’s no room for Braun at first.

  8. Sarah Green says:

    Well fine, left field then. Or let some big, greedy AL team make a spectacular deal for him and then he can DH. Or just make him take 500 grounders every day in the offseason (he can team up with Fielder, who, as Coley intimated, is not very aptly surnamed). But something must be done. Because when you’re dead last in fielding percentage, zone rating, assists, and range factor, that’s just not okay. (To compare, the much-maligned defensive skills of Manny Ramirez put him second in assists, first in fielding percentage, and last in zone rating and range factor. So to be last in all of those areas takes a lot of work.)

    The more I think about it, the more preposterous it seems. 26 errors in 113 games! That’s monstrously bad! If he’d played all season, maybe he could have set a new record! (Don’t look that up. I’m going to use it as a trivia question.)

  9. Nick Kapur says:

    Sarah, you keep hinting at the fact that Braun “wasn’t an everyday player” or “didn’t play all season” but he absolutely was the everyday first baseman once the Brewers finally got around to calling him up. He hit something like 20 homers before that in Triple-A.

    If Ryan Braun does more for his team in 113 games than the other guys do in 140, shouldn’t he be considered to have had the better season?

  10. The *best* shortstop in the league? Do you mean overall or just defensively, because I disagree with both.

    I think that Adam Everett is easily the best defensive shortstop in the national league and there are 3 shortstops in the national league east that are better than Tulowitski all around.

  11. Adam Everett was out several months with a broken leg.

    Braun was taken out in the late innings of every game I saw him in. He had great offense, but obviously his coach held his defensive liabilities against him if he actually removed him from games regularly.

    I really do like Braun but I can see how it’s not a longshot that Tulowitski would get the ROY.

  12. Sarah Green says:

    gej, I meant defensively. Tulowitzki has a higher fielding percentage and range factor. Everett edges him out on zone rating.

    I assume your three better shortstops would be Renteria, Rollins, and Hanley Ramirez (isn’t it odd, btw, that two of those are former Red Sox?). I can only say that the NL is clearly where the AL was a few years ago when Jeter, A-Rod, and Nomar were all at the position: a state of unsustainable wealth akin to the dot-com bubble. I can’t hold it against Troy for coming up in such an economic climate!

    And Nick…I assume that was a Freudian slip on your part when you called Braun an “every day first baseman.” I, personally, would like to see Braun at a defensively forgiving position such as first, but alas for the Brewers and for me, he plays the defensively crucial position of third base. And yeah, I know once he was called up he was their everyday guy. But he still missed almost two months of the season.

    For me, it comes down to this: Tulowitzki, in his first year, played like a veteran. Braun played like a rookie. Therefore, Tulowitzki gets the ROY. But I’m sure next year, Braun will have the last laugh when he goes to the All-Star Game.

  13. If you’re going to take Renteria, then there’s four. One has to think that Jose Reyes is also better, correct?

  14. Pedroia? On this site?

    Shocker!!!

  15. Sarah Green says:

    Pete, your sarcasm is duly noted. But who would you have picked?

    gej, Renteria has certainly performed for the Braves (in a way that he never performed for the Red Sox, grumble grumble). Reyes is okay but he’s not better than Tulowitzki either offensively or defensively, at least not this season. Reyes gets extra attention from the national media because he plays in New York, which is where most of the national media are located.

  16. Coley Ward says:

    Sarah, to be fair, I haven’t watched Tulowitzki much this season. But I’ve seen enough of Reyes to know that — his late season struggles aside — he is one of the best defensive short stops I’ve ever watched. I’m curious, was Tulowitski’s range factor better than Reyes’? What makes you think Reyes is overrated?

  17. Sarah Green says:

    Reyes’ fielding percentage puts him right in the middle of the pack of NL shortstops (which we admitted above is a deep field right now). He’s actually second-to-last in range factor, though he ranks third in zone rating (just behind T-Bone). Overall, the numbers don’t portray him as a great glove. Jeter is similar—middling to bottom-of-the pack according to most defensive metrics. Yet Jeter won a Gold Glove last year. There’s no accounting for hype.

  18. Nick Kapur says:

    Whoa! Look at you go, Sarah, you’ve become a stathead! Throwing range factor and zone rating in Coley’s face when he talks of what he’s actually seen with his own eyes!

    What happened to that old traditionalist Sarah, who didn’t like Murray Chass’s approach but felt she could at least understand his point of view that stats might be “undermining enjoyment of the game”?

  19. Sarah Green says:

    Come now, Nick. There’s room for both approaches! I like observation and gut feelings and not reducing everything to numbers, but when something is as obvious as being last in many statistical categories (as in the case of Jeter’s defense), one has to sit up and take notice. Reyes is good, to be sure. He’s just not the hands-down best, defensively. And he sure ain’t the best offensively.

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